Australia’s worst fears were realised on Thursday night when Queensland confirmed a mutant strain of Covid which plunged the UK into a third lockdown has escaped hotel quarantine and is in the community.
A woman in her 20s who works as a cleaner at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane’s Spring Hill tested positive to the highly-contagious strain of the virus late on Wednesday.
Health officials have since determined she spent at least four days in the community while infected, visiting Brisbane’s busiest train stations during peak hour and two grocery stores in her local community.
There are concerns the mutated virus, which is believed to be up to 70 times more contagious than previous strains, could have already spread among close contacts.
Queensland Health authorities maintained on Thursday that the employee did all the right things by seeking testing when she did – but fear the hyper virulent strain may have passed to others with ease.
There are mounting concerns that the super strain will prompt other state leaders to slam their borders shut to Queensland – particularly after the Sunshine State has been so quick to close to other states in the past.
States including Western Australia, which has banned people from NSW completely, have been trigger-happy when it comes to border closures after even the smallest outbreak – with the mutant outbreak likely to illicit a similar response from Premier Mark McGowan.
A terrifying map shows the Brisbane locations which have been exposed to the UK’s mutant variant of the virus since January 2, including a busy train line, a Coles and a Woolworths
Drive-through clinics have been set up throughout Queensland and people are urged to get tested if they develop symptoms (pictured, a testing centre in Murrarrie, Brisbane)
The cleaner visited the Calamvale North Woolworths (pictured) between 11am and noon on January 3 while infected
Sydneysiders are not able to enter Queensland until at least the end of January after a cluster on the Northern Beaches spread through the city, with a new outbreak since popping up in the western suburbs.
Victoria has also shut its border to all of NSW, fearing another wave of the deadly virus – after its second left 820 people dead and millions suffering three months of strict lockdown.
Victorians have already been placed on high alert after recording 27 cases in recent weeks, believed to have been brought across the border from NSW by a visitor.
A terrifying map shows the locations which have been exposed to the UK’s mutant variant of the virus since January 2.
The woman, who lives in Algester in Brisbane’s south, last worked on January 2 before developing symptoms and seeking a Covid test on Wednesday night.
Prior to that, she caught a train to work from Altandi Station to Roma Street Station at 7am on Saturday, January 2, one of the busiest stations in Brisbane’s CBD.
Later that afternoon, she boarded a 4pm train from Central Station back to Altandi Station. Contact tracers will use pre-paid travel cards to track potential contacts who may have been at one of the stations at the same time.
The next day, she visited the Calamvale North Woolworths between 11am and noon, and then two days later on January 5 visited Coles in Sunnybank Hills from 7.30am to 8am.
From 8am to 8.15am, she also visited the Nextra newsagent also in the Sunnybank Hills Shoppingtown on the same day.
The infected cleaner, a woman in her 20s who lives in Algester, had been working at the Hotel Grand Chancellor at Spring Hill (pictured), with her most recent shift on January 2
Prior to that, she caught a train to work from Altandi Station to Roma Street Station (pictured) at 7am on Saturday, January 2
From 8am to 8.15am on January 5th, she also visited the Nextra newsagent also in the Sunnybank Hills Shoppingtown (pictured)
It is not clear if any more locations will be identified in the coming days.
Health officials are urgently trying to trace the cleaner’s contacts – prompting emergency restrictions for aged care homes and hospitals.
They are also urgently trying to establish whether she had a second job anywhere else.
The Hotel Grand Chancellor, where she was working at the time, has processed four Covid-positive cases recently, including one with the mutant UK strain.
The cleaner’s diagnosis marks the first time in 113 days that a person in Queensland contracted the illness locally. All other infections have occurred in the hotel quarantine system.
Queensland was one of Australia’s only states to have not experienced any breaches in the quarantine program prior to the cleaner’s case, despite accepting a total of 60,000 returned travellers since the program was introduced on March 20, 2020 when international borders were slammed shut.
The UK variant of Covid entered Queensland via a returned traveller at Brisbane Airport and has been identified in quarantine throughout the nation. This is the first time it has leaked from hotel quarantine
The concerning infection comes just hours ahead of an emergency National Cabinet meeting to discuss further restrictions on the UK, fearing such an exposure.
Australian authorities have been at loggerheads in recent days discussing the mutant strain of the virus and the devastating impact it could have on the community if it were to escape quarantine.
In Sydney alone, 31 Covid-positive travellers returning from the UK have arrived in hotel quarantine between November and Boxing Day alone – though only two have been found to be carrying the new strain.
With lockdown in the UK and cases at an all-time high, more returning Australians than ever have been leaving the nation, with just 69 positive cases entering Sydney from the UK between March 29 and September 30.
Scientists fear the new mutated UK strain is between 50 per cent and 74 per cent more infectious than the original virus.
URGENT ALERT FOR AREAS THE INFECTED CLEANER VISITED
Anyone who has been to the following locations – regardless of whether they have symptoms or not – should get tested and isolate until they receive their result.
Saturday January 2: Train from Altandi to Roma Street at 7am
Saturday January 2: Train from Central station to Altandi station at 4pm
Sunday January 3: Woolworths Calamvale North from 11am to noon
Tuesday January 5: Coles Sunnybank Hills from 7.30am to 8am
Tuesday January 5: Nextra newsagent at Sunnybank Hills Shoppingtown from 8am to 8.15am
The strain has spiralled out of control in the UK, where infections reached a record 62,000 new daily cases on Wednesday, just hours after the nation’s prime minister Boris Johnson said he had ‘no choice’ but to impose a brutal third national lockdown.
Initial estimates suggest more than 50 per cent of England’s Covid cases between October and December are infected with this new strain, and modelling suggests that percentage could soar to 90 per cent by the end of January.
Passengers travelling from the UK and other COVID-19 hotspots are soon expected to face mandatory pre-flight coronavirus tests before they even step on the plane.
The infected cleaner, a woman in her 20s who lives in Algester, in Brisbane’s south, had been working at the Hotel Grand Chancellor at Spring Hill
On January 5 the infected cleaner visited Coles in Sunnybank Hills from 7.30am to 8am while unknowingly infected
National Cabinet will on Friday discuss making face masks compulsory on all domestic flights, and subjecting flight crews to Covid tests and mandatory quarantine from next week.
Health chiefs will also consider a travel ban for UK and South Africa but it is unlikely to get the green light amid fears thousands of Australians stranded overseas and desperate to return home will unable to do so.
The mutant outbreak prompted Queensland’s Chief Health Officer to impose swift restrictions on Thursday night, effective immediately.
Dr Jeannette Young said visitors will be banned from aged care, hospitals, disability services and corrections facilities.
This applies to those in Metro North, Metro South and West Moreton Hospital and Health Service regions.
‘We’re taking a very cautious approach with this case, now that we know for sure this person has the UK variant of the virus,’ she said.
‘Evidence shows that this variant is 70 percent more infectious than other strains.
‘This is why I’m taking this firm action swiftly, to protect our most vulnerable facilities.’
A deserted Regent Street in London on January 5 as millions more worked from home again and non-essential shops are shut for at least seven weeks – as the mutant strain grips the nation’s capital
Explained: UK’s mutant Covid strain
The highly infectious mutant strain of Covid now has 27 variations after it was first identified in Kent County, England, on September 21.
It now represents more than 50% of new cases diagnosed between October and Dec, making it the most common strain of Covid in England presently.
The deadly strain is believed to be more contagious and affects children worse than the original, prompting the government to plunge England back into its third nationwide lockdown.
The new variant is between 50 per cent and 74 per cent more contagious than the last, but is not necessarily any more deadly.
Experts are concerned Australian children could fall victim to the highly infectious virus if it does seep widely into the community.
Children were largely considered safe from the virus because of extremely low rates of serious illness, but the new strain appears more dangerous to young people.
Jeremy Nicholson, from Murdoch University’s Australian National Phenome Centre, told The Australian the new mutations are more likely to enter children’s lungs than in the past.
‘The easier it is to get in, the more infectious it is and therefore the fewer virus particles in the air needed. This variant finds it easier to get into children than previous versions,’ he explained.
‘With the new variant they get much worse respiratory symptoms because the virus can get into the lung more easily.’
The quarantine system was brought into place on March 20 when Australia shut its borders, with only Australian citizens, permanent residents or those with special exemptions allowed in.
NSW narrowly avoided catastrophe four times in the past month due to Covid breaches in the hotel quarantine system for returned travellers.
All current outbreaks in the state, which threaten to derail Australia’s envy-inducing handling of the pandemic, are linked to various bungles in the important isolation system.
Contact tracers have linked the Berala cluster, which has 16 known cases, to a quarantine driver who contracted the virus while transporting a family from an international flight to a hotel.
They believe he gave the virus to a colleague who then visited the alcohol store and passed it on to a staff member.
Sydney’s last significant cluster in Avalon in the Northern Beaches is also believed to be linked to a separate leak from hotel quarantine.
Passengers are tested for Covid-19 at Melbourne Airport on December 20, with Australia running a careful quarantine system for travellers
A member of the Australian Defence Force speaks to a Victorian Police officer outside of a hotel quarantine facility. It was a similar leak that sparked the state’s deadly second wave
Contact tracers said the Avalon cluster strain appeared to be similar to a virus variant detected in a quarantined American traveller who tested positive last month.
However, just how the virus spread to Avalon – sparking 148 cases, many contracted at local pubs – remains unknown.
‘We may never find a link back,’ NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said.
A cleaner at Darling Harbour’s Novotel quarantine hotel tested positive to the virus on December 2. She has not been linked to any further cases and does not have the mutant strain.
Another driver, a Sydney Ground Transport employee who ferried around air crew from the airport to their hotel, tested positive on December 16, taking the number of breaches in the last month to four.
Both NSW and Victoria recorded zero new locally transmitted cases of Covid on Thursday, leaving Queensland as the only state in Australia to identify a case within the community.
COVID TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS FOR NEW SOUTH WALES:
- Western Australia – All NSW residents are banned from entering WA. Anyone who enters the state will be ‘sent back’, according to Premier Mark McGowan.
- Victoria – A hard border has been put up, with the entire state of NSW declared a red zone. If people cross into Victoria before 11.59pm on New Year’s Eve, they must self- isolate until they test negative. If they enter before 11.59pm on New Year’s Day, they must self-isolate for 14 days regardless of test results. If they cross into the state after January 1, they must spend two weeks in mandatory hotel quarantine.
- Northern Territory – The state has declared greater metropolitan Sydney as a Covid-19 hotspot, and travellers will need to undergo 14 days of supervised quarantine.
- South Australia – Harder border closure to all NSW residents from midnight on New Year’s Eve. Returning South Australians must quarantine for 14 days. A 100km border buffer zone, including Broken Hill and Wentworth, will be exempt.
- Queensland – Queensland has shut its borders to Greater Sydney, Wollongong and the Central Coast. Locals returning to the Sunshine State from a hotspot must isolate.
- ACT – Anyone travelling to the ACT from a Covid-19 hotspot in NSW will now require an exemption. People from Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Greater Sydney, the Central Coast and Wollongong will not be legally permitted to enter the ACT without a valid pass from midday on Saturday January 2.
- Tasmania – Northern Beaches residents banned. All people from Greater Sydney must also quarantine upon entry.